The orchestrations are lovely. The band is energetic. The choir is excellent. The production, despite its ties to Fascination Street Studios, is surprisingly good. But something is missing... passion, perhaps? Uniqueness?
The loss of Yossi Sassi here is very apparent. Idan Amsalem and Chen Balbus are proficient musicians, if not a bit generic, don't get me wrong. Chen makes a fitting rhythm guitarist, and Idan would fit in great with pretty much any other progressive metal band in the realm of Symphony X and Scardust; however, I feel the latter lacks the "wow factor" of Yossi. Can he shred? Yes! Can I headbang to him? I suppose. But can I bellydance to it? That's the real question and the answer is a disappointing no.
What we have here is a tradeoff of orientalism for technicality. And frankly, the way, in the videos, he displays his guitar and neoclassically shreds, as if he's a support act Michael Romeo, with a deadpan expression doesn't feel right for Orphaned Land - he feels like a show off, which works for bands like Symphony X and Dream Theater. In their previous live album, The Road to Or Shalem, Yossi was smiling the whole time, moving around and interacting with the crowd. Idan is just... kind there.
His style lacks power and heaviness - when Yossi plays it feels like I'm being hit with a sledgehammer - the sound works for Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, as it was a more symphonic, classically-influenced album than the band's previous work. When he plays their older Mabool/ORwarriOR stuff, it just doesn't sound right.
Chen is the one who maintains the modality in the band's sound along with Kobi Farhi, and while he's competent, he just can't compare to Yossi, except when soloing, on which are evident that he spent a ton of time practicing them to sound just like Yossi - the satisfaction he gets when successfully completing them is wholesome. I understand that lineups change, but this was a major loss in my humble opinion.
As for improvements over The Road to Or Shalem, Kobi's clean vocals have improved significantly. That was my single complaint on their previous live album. He did not sound good - he was nasally and almost sounded lethargic. On here, he's shining bright, however, as expected with age, his harsh vocals here do seem a bit more strained, not unpleasant, just not as natural. Noa Gruman of Scardust singing Shlomit's parts was a surprisingly strong fit. I hear more Turkish vocal techniques in her singing than Shlomit's Yemenite techniques, but it works overall - it's still "oriental" enough to compliment Kobi's more Mizrahi/Sephardic Jewish vocal techniques. I also think the video production itself is a massive improvement; in The Road to OR Shalem, I couldn't stand how frequently the camera angle changed as it felt unfocused and all over the place. Aside from the generally better recording angles and higher quality video, the editing is a lot more focused and I feel the right people are in frame at the right time, and it's just a better watching experience overall.
Don't misinterpret me; the symphony orchestra is perfect match, and the band performed well. I just feel the lineup change since their last live album is just too much of a departure to the band's core sound and I would rather listen to The Road to Or Shalem, and part of this is because I prefer ORwarriOR and Mabool material to Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiah material, but mostly because I want to hear (and see) Yossi Sassi. Kobi Farhi is still a phenomenal frontman, and super engaging with the crowd, and Chen, like Yossi, is always smiling and happy to be there - he even appears to try to mimic Yossi's overjoyed facial expression and pseudo-laughter when soloing, and man does he NAIL those solos, which is very fun to watch in a good way; but I don't like his reliance on power chords and his too-polished guitar tone. Uri Zelcha, the "metalhead" of the band is headbanging to his hearts desires. Sharon Mansur, the band's touring keyboardist might be the most lovely woman I've seen play with a metal band - she's always smiling and super happy to be there, and I like seeing her play, but I do think the programmed keyboard sounds a little "cartoony," if not novel, and in contrast with the professional orchestra feels out of place, yet strangely enough I do like it. Matan Shmuely, as usual, is great drummer and adding the darbuka to his kit was a brilliant idea, and I also find it amusing how he's wearing the exact same shirt in this concert as he did in The Road to Or Shalem. It's a good album, overall, and it's interesting enough that I will probably still get it, I just think the new lineup needs some getting used to.